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Fantasy in pornography reflects brokeness.
By Caleb Simonyi-Gindele / October 16, 2017
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Pornography Recovery Step 3: Fantasy Reflects Brokenness

There’s a small quote from a book written in 1945, called The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith. It is a Catholic novel. I have not read it and do not recommend it. But that book is best known for these words: “…the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God” .

What is the Addict Searching For?

The addict is so filled with shame that he or she has likely never been able to take a step back and really examine why he or she turns to pornography. Or, if you were to ask, they would attribute the cause of their search to too much libido. This is too simplistic an explanation: sex is about connection. It is far more than a biological appetite or uncontrollable urge.

The truth is, they have never understood that there is more to their search than just unrequited lust. This is reflected in the story of the young man and harlot in Proverbs 7. Note the description of the young man: “…I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding” (Proverbs 7:7, NKJV).

Your job today is to help the addict develop understanding so that s/he knows why s/he pursues the virtual harlot via the world of Internet pornography. You will investigate the nature of their search and then, when that is understood, go deeper to examine the purpose of their search.

Uncovering Brokenness

If you follow the story of the young man of Proverbs 7, you see that he is eventually seduced by the woman. The comments towards the end of the chapter are both fascinating and relevant to the struggles of a contemporary porn addict.

First, the warning is made, “Do not let you heart turn aside to her ways…” (Proverbs 7:25, NKJV). From this we can note that the writer understands that it is the heart which is turned aside, not the libido or genitals, nor even the mind. What we will discover is that there are deep matters of the heart which underly the addictive behaviour.

Second, the observation is made, “For she has cast down many wounded…” (Proverbs 7:26, NKJV). You will never find an unwounded pornography addict. In every addict’s heart are wounds: at the very least, a simple loneliness but more commonly even deeper wounds are present.

Understand that the addictive behaviours are an attempt to salve those heart wounds.

This is why pornography has become such a masterpiece in Satan’s arsenal against believers. The porn will, for a moment, offer relief from those wounds. I often tell addicts: pornography works — for a moment. When the addict masturbates to the pornography, the brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals. Not only that, but the actors in the pornography world communicate desire, intimacy and validation to the addict. But those promises are really just shallow imitations of the real thing and as the moment passes and the brain calms down, shame cascades over the addict once more.

Typically, the shame that follows exacerbates the wounded feelings that the addict was initially trying to flee. Where will the addict find relief? Back in the pornography. Again, the cycle becomes self-evident.

Valid vs. Invalid

In the previous step of the Pornography Recovery Plan I mentioned that “pornography is an invalid coping mechanism for a valid set of feelings and brokenness”.

This same principle must be upheld when working through this current step with the addict.

The wounds and brokenness in the heart of the addict are not wrong or sinful in themselves. Now, the addict may feel shame about those feelings. For example, most men are loath to acknowledge how lonely they are. They may even conclude there is something deficient in themselves and experience shame as a result. Yet, the loneliness is not morally wrong.

Rather, it is what they choose to do with these feelings that matters. So as you work with the addict, you will want to validate their feelings and acknowledge and identify what they believe about themselves and others without judging.

If those beliefs are faulty or untrue, teach the addict to confront them with the Word of God.

However, the feelings must be acknowledged, not denied. The addict needs to own these feelings and needs to learn to be able to sit with them, to identify them readily, and then to take them to Christ for healing or to healthy relationships.

What is in the heart is valid. The use of pornography and masturbation are invalid (i.e., are sinful). Keep those two things separate even though they are implicit in same activity. And remember, the addict’s pursuit of fantasy is really a search for wholeness.

A Quick Warning

What you will talk about in this session with the addict will be rather graphic. This part of the work is very powerful, but it involves bringing sin in all its ugliness out into the light where it can be clearly seen. At the end of this article I will address the necessary self-care to ensure that you are not entrapped by some of the enticement uncovered by this investigation of the addict’s fantasy.

However, if you do not feel that you have sufficient resilience to go there with the addict, then it would be wise to refer the addict to someone else.

How To

Having laid out the goals of this step, let us look at how you can work with the addict to uncover the deeper issues of the heart.

Search Terms

In this session with the addict you will need to explain that they will be opening up about what they search for and fantasize about so that the meaning of these things can be understood. Tell them that their thirst for pornography and the fantasies that they idealize are a reflection of the wounding in their heart that has come from living in a sinful world. The fantasies, which are sinful and shameful, offer a window into matters of the heart that can be taken to Christ for sanctification.

After having explained why you are going to unpack these details with the addict, they should be ready to proceed.

Ask, “When you want to look at pornography, what search terms do you use? Or what kinds of pornography are you usually looking for?”

Depending on what the addict is search for or looking at, you may go in different directions.

Sometimes the images they are seeking out involve basic nudity. In that case, it helps to know if there is any particular body part that they are most concerned with. When you have identified that, the next question is, “What do those parts mean to you? Why do you think you search for that in particular? What is the symbolic appeal?”

Others who are further into their addiction are often looking for very specific kinds of pornography actors or specific sexual scenarios. This really is a time when you want to explore their fantasy world with gentleness and curiosity, being careful not to trigger the shame.

Somewhere in the typical scenario or characteristics they seek is a theme.

Once you have identified the theme, the next step is to explore the meaning of that theme. Again, just be cautious with your tone of voice: an abrupt, disgusted, “Seriously? Why do you look at THAT?!” is only going to send the addict a signal that you are not a safe person to explore this with. They will retreat and you will get nowhere.

In fact, try to avoid using the word “Why” if at all possible. Instead, try “How is it that you keep looking for that kind of pornography? What do you think you are looking for in that scenario? What meaning does it carry for you?”

This is uncomfortable work. But you want to slow things down and really slice them thin. Do not let your discomfort (or the addict’s) rush you through this part. The more information you glean about what is going on and why, the more you will be able to effectively point the addict to Christ.

Common Wounds

Meaning is waiting to be discovered within the type of pornography the addict is seeking out. That meaning is a reflection of deep wounds–core wounds–in the heart of the addict.

Those wounds exist as a result of their own personal sin or else the sin or neglect of others. Other times they will just be due to environmental factors when they were growing up.

For example, I see a lot of loneliness in addicts. They may grow up in a stable and loving home but perhaps they were not as connected to their family as their siblings. Perhaps there were no young people around and so this young believer grows up feeling quite alone and isolated. One day he or she stumbles across pornography and finds there some solace, or some comfort in the warm, ready embrace of the virtual harlot.

Many of God’s people grow up in homes that are rigid and disengaged. There is strict adherence to an outward set of rules and requirements. Yet dad is often busy, sometimes even as an elder or missionary or with secular work. Mom is distracted with all of the affairs of the house and supporting assembly work and really there is not a lot of time for her to stop and nurture her children. I have seen addicts searching for nurture and for comfort in pornography.

Other times, mom and or dad have been a critical presence in their lives. From this, the child learned that he or she was never good enough. They could never gain the approval of their parents. One day, they stumble across a picture of a pornography actor who is communicating desire and approval through his or her body language. The cavity in the heart of the youth responds, and an addiction begins.

At the end of the day, there is no recipe list of “this equals that” when it comes to what the addict is looking at in the pornography world. Simply taking the time to discuss and explore what their ideal fantasy is provides sufficient opportunity to make sense of the brokenness that lies deep in the addict’s heart.

Although they often seem overwhelmed to begin with, I have never met an addict who was unable to describe what he or she prefers to look at and then articulate, with some assistance, the deeper meaning of that quest.

What To Do With This Information

What should you do with the wounds that have been uncovered?

The first thing is to acknowledge them. Do not minimize them in any way. This is a true, valid aspect of the addict’s experience of their world. Often it is tempting to defend parents or other believers who may have contributed to these deep wounds.

It is also very easy to think that if I can get the addict to stop feeling bad, then the pornography will go away. That will never work.

What you have just uncovered with the addict is parts of his or her heart that have never been taken to Christ for healing and redemption. They have sought to bind up these wounds alone.

Therefore, your next step is to work with the addict to show them, in a real way, how to take those wounds to Christ.

This is very detailed discipling at this point. I will say something like, “So you have this deep feeling of loneliness that you have been taking to pornography to just cope and survive and find relief from that pain. But that leaves you feeling shameful. Now how can you take that same feeling to your Saviour?”

I know in some parts the saints have been taught not to pray to the Lord Jesus. But the simple plea of Peter is all that the addict needs here: “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30, NKJV).

This is how you connect today’s work back to The Chain from the previous step. The Chain is an effort to remove these wounded feelings. Any hint of desire to go down The Chain is now a cue to the addict to stop and identify the deeper, difficult feelings that he or she is experiencing.

Once those feelings have been identified, the addict will need to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and take those feelings to Him for redemption. This is rubber-meets-the-road sanctification.

I will even practice this with the addict: “Say you find yourself feeling lonely in a couple days. How are you going to call out to the Lord? What are you going to say?”

A huge part of this addiction is isolation. Often the addict believes God is disgusted with him or her so has stopped reading and praying. At this point you are asking them to engage in real Christianity: to call out to the Lord for help right in those moments. “Lord, please help me. Please come and meet me in my pain. I do not want to take my feelings of failure and inadequacy to pornography. I am taking them to You. Can You help me with this?” Teaching them to engage in a real relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is a huge step forward in dealing with isolation.

It is also useful here to have the addict do some homework after this session. What Scriptures can they find which speak to the wounds they feel in their heart? When temptation comes, those Scriptures can fill the void in their hearts. This is how God will speak to them and meet them in their pain and sorrow.

Be Cautious

This can be risky work for you and for the addict, although in different ways.

Shame in the Addict

Whatever fantasy or pornography interests the addict describes, they likely never have revealed this to anyone else in their lives. Your reaction is critical: you want to maintain a neutral, non-judgmental stance.

If they are willing to work with you through this stage I would have no doubt that they are already filled with more than enough remorse and shame and self-loathing. Adding to this will not bring repentance or reform. God does not produce transformation in the lives of His people through punitive, shaming words. Nor should we attempt to.

Sometimes I think that we see God holding back his judgment from a believer and so feel compelled to make up for that apparent deficiency ourselves! Not at all: we are called to restore “…in a spirit of gentleness…” (Galatians 6:1, NKJV).

With that in mind, just be aware of your body language and your own visceral reaction to what is revealed. You will hear some gritty and disturbing realities when you do this work. The addict may not be able to differentiate between your disgust for those things and your disgust for him or her. Gentleness and unconditional love are important here as in any moment when you confront a wandering believer.

Your Reaction to What You Hear

As indicated, during this session you will hear some difficult things. I want to close by looking at your own internal response to this information since I have just talked about your response to the addict.

Some of the things you will hear you may find sexually stimulating. They may echo sexual fantasies you have had in the past, too. You may even be aware of your body physically responding to the information.

Other things you will hear you may find to be deeply disturbing, even sickening. There is a dark, shocking world of depravity out there. As the addict moves further into his or her addiction they will need to escalate the depravity they seek out in order to find the same high and the same relief.

Other times, your curiosity may be piqued and you may wonder about the things you hear.

Believe me, this is dangerous work.

It is in this scenario that the words of Paul are so critical: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2, NKJV, emphasis added).

I find that when my curiosity is piqued or if I sense my flesh being attracted to any of this information I must immediately pray and ask God to remove the curiosity and interest. I ask for His power to put to death the fleshly response. None of us are above sexual immorality, so we must “consider ourselves” in this way. Typically the addict does not realize this is happening as I am praying to God and listening to them at the same time.

This is also defiling work. When I am finished I ask God to clear my memory from the details of what was said. I will listen to what the addict describes in order to understand, but I have to stop myself from visualizing what has been described. I can hear what they say, but I do not need to picture what they are talking about. Other times, the things being described are so defiling I have to shake off the thoughts and just give the whole thing back to God by casting these cares back on Him (1 Peter 5:7).

In any case, you will be doing what you are asking the addict to do: to take those thoughts and feelings, whatever they are, to the Saviour who not only bore our sins but also carried our griefs and sorrows. He is the source of our hope and strength as shepherds as much as He is those things for the addict. So, in this work, we get to model what we are asking the addict to do.

Summary

The addict’s fantasy echoes the deepest wounds of his or her brokenness. When they bring those wounds to our Saviour and taste and see that the Lord is good, the grip of pornography is eased.

It is ultimately in God that we understand, addict or not, that we are appreciated, desired, needed, validated, accepted, befriended, and loved.


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About the author

Caleb Simonyi-Gindele

An overseer himself, Caleb's mission is to help other elders lead their local assembly through some of the unique challenges of the 21st century: both doctrinal and shepherding. More about Caleb.